Superbe by name

Well, this is a wee bit of a departure for me. A new bike not very vintage, not very light and with no sporting pretensions. In fact, it's only 34 years old which makes it by far the youngest bike I have. It could be the grandson of some of my older machines.

So why a Raleigh Superbe? Basically because they started to intrigue me. I've read quite a few blogs where they are their owners' favourite bikes and they definitely offer a completely different riding experience from classic lightweights. Plus, this one turned up for sale locally at a good price and seemed to be in very nice condition. And that's essentially why it's now sitting in my man cave while I wait for a bloody awful cold to lift so I can set about washing and polishing it.

I would have preferred one from the 1950s or earlier when they were apparently at their peak but the older bikes tend to need a lot of TLC or, if they don't, command quite high prices. Ten years ago you could pick up 1950s roadsters for £30 or £40 as they were just seriously out of fashion. Times change, however, and bikes like the Superbe are starting to appreciate in value almost regardless of their age provided they're in good condition - and this one is a cracker.

I don't think it can have done a lot of miles and it also seems to have been regularly serviced. There's quite a bit of grease protecting and lubricating things and stopping them from seizing up. The seat post, for instance, came out with just a little bit of shoogling, the brakes are nicely centred and the mudguards have close, even spaces all round. I think I detect the hand of an experienced bike mechanic.

There's very little rust and what there is, thankfully, is light and should clean off quite quickly. The paintwork has a few scratches but not many that have gone through the paint. I took a cloth and a little car polish to one or two areas and they came up sparkling. The bike looked good in the pre-sale pics I saw of it but, if anything, it's even better in the flesh.

I'm happy to accept that the older machines may have been higher quality in terms of fittings and fixtures but I'm pleasantly surprised at how well-appointed the 1983 Superbe is. There are a few areas where it could be improved if I could be bothered. It's got a steel seat post, steel North Road bars and non-adjustable Union pedals. An alloy post, GB All-Rounder bars and some old Philite pedals I have in the garage would improve its appearance and shave a few ounces off the not inconsiderable weight.

In a wild moment (obviously, that's a relative term) I even thought about replacing the bars with Lauterwasser bars. It would look great but I think I'd need to change the steel stem as well then for something alloy as the diameters of the various parts don't match very well. But, to be honest, I'm fed up taking apart and cleaning old bikes and ending up with almost complete projects but little that's actually rideable so I'm inclined to leave the Superbe just as it is.

One thing I did do straight away, though, was to replace the B66S woman's saddle with a Brooks Pro and remove the dress guards over the rear wheel. This is a big frame and the woman who rode it at some point in the past must have been quite tall. I'm 5' 10", albeit with short legs for my height, and there's only a couple of inches of seat post showing for me. And don't even ask about stand-over height! On tip-toes I'm just about able to preserve and protect. I was assured by the seller that everything works but I was feeling too poorly because of this cold to take the bike for a ride so it will be interesting to see if that's the case.

Of course, there is an ulterior motive for getting the bike that I haven't shared with you yet. My big interest is photography and I have a project in mind that involves documenting a 20 mile long strip of land between Dundee and Perth known as the Carse of Gowrie. I had been planning to drive around the area, which is on my doorstep more or less, but then I thought I'd see more if I toured this essentially flat plain on a bike.

The upright riding style of the Superbe means I'll be able to see over hedgerows and I'll be able to strap my camera gear and tripod to the beefy rear carrier. I'll also be able to stop wherever I want rather than having to look for a parking spot on the narrow country roads and the chunky 37-590 tyres will be better able to handle rough terrain than a sportier bike. When it comes to a choice between a car and a bike for a project like this it is, in a manner of speaking, horses for courses.
Read more »

Hobbs update

Hobbs Superbe as I found it.

I had an email from someone the other day asking what's happened to the Hobbs I wrote about last year. Well, I'm afraid that restoration has stalled for want of a pair of wheels. I've cleaned the frame up to the best of my ability and reconditioned all the parts but I've yet to get round to doing the wheels.

It's really just inertia that's stopped me from doing it. I'll need to pick a pair of hubs and rims, measure everything carefully and work out the spoke lengths and then get cracking. Now that (hopefully) this bloody awful spell of dreich and miserable weather has passed, I'll try to get the finger out and get the Hobbs on the road for the spring.
Read more »

Restoration on the Cheap

The festive period isn't the best to find time for doing up a bike so progress has been rather slow of late. I was hoping that it might have been possible to salvage the rims on the Parkes' wheels but they're just too far gone. There's very little chrome there to speak of and I would have ended up with a dull metal finish if I'd rubbed through the rust with steel wool.

There's a recycling yard a few miles away that always seems to have lots of bikes kicking around, most of which are piled up waiting to be collected by a scrap dealer, so I popped in there to see if there might be a pair of Endrick 26x13/8 (37-590) rims going abegging.

As luck would have it, there was an old utility bike, dating from 1972 according to the Sturmey Archer AG rear dyno hub, that still had its wheels - and they were the right size. The front rim is in good condition but the rear's a bit rusty in places. Still, they're both an improvement on what's already there.

I'll probably strip the the hubs from the "new" wheels and tape the rims to the existing wheels. It's a case then of swapping the spokes over. It keeps things nice and simple. I've never built a wheel before but I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to produce something that'll do a job. I might end up replacing the rims again at some point in the future because chrome Endricks are a bit dicey in the wet. It's not so crucial with the Parkes as it has the front brake drum but alloy rims would also be a decent weight saving.

The Burlite alloy brake levers are looking OK now. They had a thick coating of crud all over them that I attacked with a good old Brillo pad. It took about 20 mins per brake but they're looking all right. If I kept at it using progressively finer steel wool and lots of polish I could get them to a near mirror finish but I can't be bothered. They'll look like they've been sitting on a well cared for bike for 70 years which was the goal all along.

The hard bit was freeing them from the seized cable nipples. Both cables were well and truly stuck in place within the body of the brake lever. I had to get a screw driver and hammer and bash them out. At the same time, I stripped the handlebar tape off to reveal a pair of Stratalite Pelissier bars. Nice!

The other thing I've done is to dig out a pair of cranks to replace the rusty originals. I've got nice Bramptons with pretty good chrome that will look great on the Parkes. I'm not exactly sure of their age but they must be within a couple of years of the frame so they're close enough for this restoration.

The seat post is a bugger, though. The frame tubes are plain gauge rather than double butted as the post required is 26.4mm instead of the 27.2mm I'd been expecting. I didn't know this until I removed one of the Sturmey cable clamps that had been obscuring the Reynolds transfer. I'd looked out a nice Strata post - a good match for the bars - and given it a bit of a polish only to discover it's too big. Have I got one that fits? Not yet. We moved house six weeks ago and my bike stuff is still in boxes piled up in a corner of the garage. There might be a post in there that will fit but I haven't found one so far. And if there is it'll probably be a steel one. Never mind. With the weight I put on over Christmas, it's maybe just as well...

I'd given the frame a good wash not long after I got it but in a good light it was obvious there was still some grimy muck around the dropouts, brake mounting holes and bottom bracket in particular. Screwfix do a 5 litre container of degreasent that's isn't too brutal so between Christmas and New Year I got to work with that and an old paint brush having first tried the solution on a small section of box lining on the chain stay to make sure it wasn't going to do any damage.

I also tried it over a small bit of transfer. It seemed OK so I bashed on, careful to wash the cleaner off when I'd finished. The lovely burgundy colour of the paintwork has been brought out but some of the shine has been lost so it'll need a good polish now.

My intention had been to clean the frame up with the components still on it and then work on the parts one at a time. Unfortunately, the grime was really just too baked on to the frame and it was proving difficult to shift it. It was that hard, thick crud that almost needs to be chipped off. So I decided just to strip everything off the frame, hang it up and start from scratch.

It was too cold to spend much time in the garage but I made a wee start, discovering in the process that what I thought was heavy rust on the chromed forks turned out to be a hard, rust-like deposit - but not rust. Rubbing it with scrunched up tin foil and water made hardly any impression. I'll have to scrape it off with a sharp blade.

The chrome underneath isn't perfect by any means but, from what I can tell, it should look quite presentable. The pic right will give you an idea of the before and after aspect of the scraping. The left fork blade has been scraped above the lamp bracket but not below. The fork crown hasn't fared as well, though. There are a few spots where the chrome has flaked clean off. Nevertheless, the forks should come out better than I'd previously thought so they're being filed under "RESULT!"

Another bit of explanatory rubbing using the Screwfix muck remover confirmed that the paintwork is quite dull. As usual, it can be seen in all its glory beneath cable clamps, etc. A quick polish helped but there was understandably a clear difference between the "fresh" paint and the oxidised stuff.

T-Cut can be quite evil but I'm going to try it in a very gentle fashion to see if I can revive the paint. Overall, though, I'm still really chuffed at the condition of this frame given that it's survived seventy cold, wet and salty Scottish winters. If I look as good as that at 70 I'll be even more chuffed.
Read more »

F. C. Parkes? A bit of a head scratcher...

The Parkes' serial number: LL1650

This F. C. Parkes is proving a hard one to pin down. First I thought it was a 1939/early '40s bike, then a 1947 machine based on the date code on the Sturmey AW rear and now the front BF drum hub says it was made in June, 1948. I'm unearthing these wee clues one at a time because I've hardly any time to spend tinkering with the Parkes at the moment.

Then there's the other thing that's been bugging me: the Cyclo Standard mounting bracket on the chain stay. Assuming the original owner had the frame specially made for him, why would he ask for a Cyclo bracket and then fit a Sturmey Archer AW rear hub? This raises all sorts of questions (well, one or two at least!). Did he order the frame or was it one he picked up secondhand? If he had it made for himself, did he start off with a Cyclo Standard and switch to an AW in the late 1940s? How much of the bike actually relates to its first build and how much has been changed in the dim and distant past?

I saw another Parkes on the internet that had the same lugged stem as my bike and a similar swaged on chainring. I'm beginning to think that these two items may have been standard equipment on a Parkes built and equipped bike. Maybe the bike was bought fully built up - Cyclo and all - and an AW added later for a wider spread of gears? Who knows but it's fun to speculate.

Slightly bent rear dropout. Shouldn't be too hard to bend it back into shape.

The frame number appears to be LL1650. Now, if we rule out 1650 as the date when it was made then the LL might give us a clue. A 1945 Parkes on the Classic Lightweights website had the letters MW at the start. The owner said the M meant it was from the financial period April, 1945 - March, 1946. If that's true then, logically, my frame might well date from 1944-45. He said, "The frame number, stamped on the left rear drop-out, is MW 410. ‘M’ is the financial year number, in this case April 1945 – March 1946. W is the workshop. The number 410 would indicate that the frame was built late 1945, according to Peter Cowan the V-CC Parkes ME (Marque Enthusiast)."

I'm wondering if this is more of an educated guess by Peter Cowan rather than concrete information. If the second letter denotes the factory or workshop then what does "L" stand for? Maybe it was made in the "lounge" or the "ladies"? Or was there a "lightweight" division? 1940s Parkes were made at Aston in Birmingham just along the road from the Norton factory so L doesn't tie in with that. And 1650? Would they really have made so many Parkes lightweights in a year? Could it be a date, 1/6/50? Seems too late to me so possibly the 1650th frame produced by the Lightweight division in 1944-45?

Above and below: The proof of the wheels' roadster origins.

And then just tonight I had a look at the rims which I'd assumed were very rusty 26x11/4 Endricks. Well, they're Endricks and very rusty all right but 26x13/8 - roadster rims! I should have checked them out earlier but I'm just slowly cleaning this very dirty bike up and, to be fair, who would have imagined roadster wheels on a lightweight?

So, an elite, high class frame, Chater Lea pedals, Brooks B17, lugged stem and Parkes branded mudguards mated with a cheaper chainset, steel caliper brake and roadster wheels. I'm not sure what to make of that. It certainly calls my initial impression of "completely original" into question. I suppose, reaching out for that passing straw, that it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone might have specified an F. C. Parkes like that or bought a Parkes lightweight frame and built it up with what was to hand. Somehow, though, it would surely have made more sense to have bought a roadster.

A clearer view of the serial number.

I'm lucky enough to have a wee stash of 1940s parts that I could use to build the bike up as a "proper" period correct lightweight. I could do it like this:

  • Reynolds bars and stem
  • GB Hiduminium brakes and the Burlite levers
  • Conloy Standard rims/Blumfield Duralite hubs
  • Cyclo Standard gear
  • Williams chainset/Chater Lea pedals.

It's maybe a bit perverse but I'm tempted to keep it pretty much the way it is. Decent 26x11/4 Endricks and the Sturmey hubs, a GB Hiduminium rear caliper, Williams chainset and perhaps a Strata alloy seat post and that's it. More of a tourer than a racer, I suppose. 
Read more »

Doherty Brake?

A good dousing with WD40, a rub with a paint brush and a Doherty brake is revealed. I wasn't expecting that. I've seen the odd alloy Doherty caliper looking like a GB but this is a steel one with quick release chrome. Actually, that's unfair as the chrome may have clung on tenaciously for half a century before giving up the fight.

I wonder why the original owner spent money on an expensive Parkes frame, Chater Lea pedals, Sturmey hubs, lugged stem and Parkes branded mudguards but dropped in some unlikely parts such as the cheaper cranks and a steel caliper brake more usually found on roadsters? It's possible the bike is entirely original - that's the way it looks to me - but it might also be the case that the brake and cranks were carried over from an earlier machine. A little curious, really.

The frame is starting to clean up quite well but the paintwork is very faded and it will be difficult bringing it back to life. Without the transfers and box lining to worry about I'd have given it a good polish but I have to be careful I don't rub everything off. I might just put some oil on a soft cloth and gently rub the paintwork to make it shine. It won't stay shiny forever but the oil will also help keep rust at bay.

Below is an iphone pic of one relatively shiny part, though: the obligatory King of the Road bell. The Sturmey hubs are going to come up very well, too, having been protected from the elements by a think layer of gunk. The only difficulty is removing it! A scrape with a sharp lollipop stick should do it, I reckon. Not much else is going to be gleamworthy no matter how hard I rub and polish.

Add caption

Read more »

Sturmey Archer doesn't lie...

Well, would you believe it. After pinning my reputation (What reputation? -Ed) on a guesstimate of 1939/40 for the F. C. Parkes in the previous post, it transpires I was out by eight years. The bike is post-war rather than pre-war.

It seemed like a good idea to clean decades of accumulated gunk off the rear hub as a way of getting some sort of confirmation of the bike's birth year from the Sturmey hub and, as the paintbrush and WD40 got to work, the date code said it all: "47 11" - November, 1947. At least, it is an AW hub so I got that bit right.

There should be a code on the front hub as well but it started raining and "sleeting" as I worked on the bike outside so I returned it to the sanctuary of my shed to spare it another drenching since it's had about ten in the last twelve days sitting against a fence.

The steering was quite stiff but a quick squirt of WD40 loosened it off nicely. The back brake, which had been seized solid, was also freed up courtesy of the spray. It wouldn't take much to get the bike roadworthy - or at least capable of a short run along a bike path. Normally, I like to get stuck in with bike projects and begin stripping the frame for a good clean-up but I think I'll get the Parkes running instead and take it for a spin.

More cleaning to come - weather permitting. Are there are more surprises lurking beneath the grime? Better not be!
Read more »

When fate plays a hand

A tourer from the middle of last century - what a find.

Today, I'm celebrating another "dump" find, one of my best yet. It's an 1939/early '40s F. C. Parkes, a hand-built lightweight from the company that made Sun bicycles and motor bikes. This, I'm convinced, is a bike that was destined to fall into my grubby fingers. Here's the story...

We moved house a fortnight ago and I had a car full of rubbish that I had to off-load at the Riverside council skip in Dundee. By the time I'd remembered it was in the boot of the car, the dump had closed for the day. The next day, I dropped my better half and daughter off at work and school respectively and decided to pull in to the Baldovie skip in another part of town to jettison my, by now, smelly cargo.

Brooks B17 in great condition.

On the way back from the skip I saw a commercial yard with a sign up declaring their ability to dispose of rubbish, clear houses and garages, etc. I thought about popping in to see if they ever came across old bikes but the yard was a couple of inches deep in mud so I just kept going. A hundred yards further on I thought it would be daft not to have a quick look since I was in the area so I turned the car round, drove through the gates and parked next to the portacabin office.

I looked up and there, leaning against a fence not eight feet away and looking sorry for itself, was a clearly very old lightweight racing machine. I could swear I heard the theme tune from The Twilight Zone as I climbed up the steps to the office. The very attractive young woman "manning" the office said one of the drivers had picked the bike up in a garage clearance in nearby Tayport a few weeks ago and had rescued it from the pile of junk, placing it against the fence. He wasn't in but if I phoned back she'd see if he had any plans for it. I had a quick look at the bike before getting back in the car and saw it was a Parkes.

Not sure of the make of the stem. Maybe something will be revealed
when it's cleaned up?

The following day, she'd had a chance to speak to him and I could have it for £20. I fired up my old Saab 900 which, with the rear seat folded down, is capable of taking an entire bike and journeyed across town. The driver proved to be a nice guy who had recognised the antiquity of the bike and had put it aside with the idea of perhaps restoring it himself. After a while he began to realise just what would be involved in getting the Parkes looking good again and lost interest in the project.

So that's the story of why I now have a completely original F. C. Parkes in my bike shed. I haven't even had a chance yet to wash it but the equipment reads as follows:

  • Alloy bars
  • Lugged steel stem
  • Brooks B17 on a steel post
  • Fluted cranks with a swaged on Williams pattern chainring
  • Chater Lea "Tommy bar" pedals
  • Sturmey Archer rear hub (probably an AW)
  • Sturmey BF front drum brake hub
  • Endrick rims, 26"
  • Steel rear brake caliper with Burlite (?) levers
  • Parkes branded Britannia celluloid mudguards
  • Rear bag carrier and saddlebag

I'm guessing at the 1939-ish date based on the fact that the Sturmey trigger on the bike is the first handlebar-mounted model (as opposed to the top-tube mounted quadrant shifter) which came out that year. Yes, it was in production until 1948 but the mudguard eyes are also in the pre-war position a few inches up from the dropouts and I believe the Brooks badge on the rear of the saddle is the earlier type as well.

I think these are Burlite levers...

There weren't many lightweights built once the war started so if it's not pre-war there's a chance it might be just post-war. Once I clean up the hubs, the Sturmey date code will provide some information and, if the cranks are Williams, then their date code might provide some confirmation. I'm a bit curious about the Burlite levers, however - assuming they are Burlites. I seem to remember that they came out after the GB brakes were launched in 1946. Maybe I've got that wrong.

What condition is the bike in? Well, the paintwork is faded and dull and there's some light surface rust on a few tubes. With a very careful wash and polish I think the frame will be quite respectable-looking and certainly won't need to be refinished. The saddle is in remarkable condition given its age and the fact it has been sitting out in heavy rain for a fortnight.

The Sturmey hubs are covered in oily grime which means they should be OK underneath. The front drum brake seems to be functional, the saddlebag looks usable and the mudguards are in great shape.

The Parkes seat tube transfer.

That's the good news - now for the bad. The rear brake caliper has completely shed its chrome and the cranks have followed its example. The swaged on chainring is also showing the early stages of hooked teeth from use. The seat post is in a similar state chrome-wise and the Endrick rims are chrome-free and rusty. The lovely lugged stem is rusted and a little pitted. I think I'll have the stem re-chromed, replace the rear caliper with a period alloy one and fit better quality cranks.

It's strange that the original owner used very expensive Chater Lea pedals but a basic chainset. Or maybe he just had no money left for better cranks! It's tempting to find a pair of replacement Endricks and reuse the spokes as they seem to be sound but I also have a pair of 26" Conloy Standard rims in the shed. I'll have to think about that one.

So that's the F. C. Parkes. The company had a long history. It started in 1885 making light fittings and morphed into the Sun company that went on to make highly-regarded bikes and motor cycles. In 1936, F. C. Parkes, the grandson of the founder, decided to launch a range of elite bikes bearing his name. They were built to order by the company's best framebuilder. Eventually, Sun became part of Raleigh and was reduced to a brand marketing exercise in the 1960s.

I'll update this find once I've had a chance to scrape the muck off everything and can shed some more light on it. Sorry about the iphone pics - it was all I had handy at the time.

Normally the Brooks embossing has been well-worn through years of use
- not in this case, though. But is it original?

Too mucky to see what it is but probably a bog standard AW hub.

Chater Lea pedals - expensive in their day.

The front BF drum brake hub.

Original pattern Sturmey trigger shifter, 1939-48.

Swaged on chainring.
Read more »

Poor Old Chap

Do you see a face in this pic of the bag? The upright flap is like a gelled-up quiff, the buckles are the eyes and the leather reinforcement underneath is the frog-like mouth.

Just over a year ago, I wrote about a barn find bicycle that I eventually got my hands on having been pursuing it for quite a few years. It's a 1948 Hobbs of Barbican that had been mouldering away at the back of a shed belonging to an ex-cyclist now in his 90s. It was in a bit of a state when I got it as you can see if you visit the barn find post. It's in much better condition now but in bits as I took it apart to clean everything and haven't got round to putting it all together again.

I'll probably wait until we've sold our house and are settled somewhere else. We had a couple coming to view our home the other day so I'd decided to give the garage a good clean out and tidy. In the process, I came across this old bag that I'd taken off the bike before photographing it for last year's post. At first look, it was extremely dirty, dishevelled and, dare I say it, decomposed.

Read more »